By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Thank you to everyone who responded to my post about the passing of my husband, Alan.  It has been a trying few weeks, but your notes and good wishes made a bad situation just a bit brighter.  I do not plan to dwell on this subject, and I promise that in my next blog I will return to writing about fun subjects like why we have national donut day or rant about what is going to happen to the Rose Bowl now that the Pac 12 is the Pac 4.  But today I want to share some thoughts about my experience that might be of help to you.

As regular readers of this blog know, last fall my friend Pat Miles Zimmerman and I published a book that built on her experience after her husband died.  Over the two years that it took to complete the book I listened to the widows’ experiences and read the advice from professionals in an interested, but perhaps detached, way.  After all, I was not a widow.  I did learn some tips from the chapters on legal and financial issues, but being the Type A that I am, I already had my affairs in order, had a great estate attorney and a trusted financial advisor of 20 years.  The other chapters, dealing with more emotional issues I read with interest, but could not relate to them.  Now, all of the sadness and sentiment of being widowed has hit me full force, and it is a gut-wrenching experience. So, here is some advice, that I strongly encourage you to consider.

First, what we leave behind for our surviving spouse can greatly influence the grieving process.  Because I had everything in order, in the few days Alan and I had after his diagnosis we were able to spend them talking about our life together, our family, and what he wanted for my future.  I did not have to scurry to collect passwords, bank account information or try to understand our investment strategies.  This has been invaluable.  I have read that losing a spouse is the worst kind of grief because it affects every single thing you do from the moment you wake up to the time you go to sleep.  It has been much harder than I anticipated, but at least I am afforded the luxury of simply missing him.  I cannot imagine that hurt being exacerbated by stress over not knowing how to pay bills or how to access his iPhone.  I urge everyone to get your affairs in order ahead of a crisis – it will pay great dividends in your emotional well-being and to some extent, help in the grieving process.  Last week one of Alan’s closest friends prepared a binder for his wife that contains all of the pertinent information she will need when he passes.  He told her, “This is for Alan.”  It touched me that Alan’s spirit left behind such a thoughtful, and practical, gesture.

Second, the legacy we leave behind is greatly influenced by how we treat everyone with whom we come into contact.  I have been overwhelmed by the beautiful cards and letters that friends have sent me, some relating stories about Alan and how they met him.  But I have been particularly touched by the employees at our club that have reached out to me expressing their sorrow at his passing.  They all said the same thing: he was always nice to them.  As one of the staff said, “I will miss him.  He was a good man.”  His niceness extended to others who worked with us. Two days after Alan died our air conditioner experienced a problem.  Ken, our regular A/C technician came to fix it and asked me where Alan was.  When he learned of his death, Ken got tears in his eyes and gave me a big hug.  He said, “He was always so good to me – made sure that I had water when it was hot and lent a hand when I needed it.” It makes me happy that the legacy of being good to people is also part of what Alan left behind.

Finally, maybe it pays to leave something a little quirky behind just to make your loved one smile.  I have gradually been going through Alan’s things, distributing sentimental items to the family, particularly his two sets of golf clubs which our two grandsons now possess.  I know that would make him very happy.  But he also left behind some curious items, among them 13 (!) new golf gloves, most still in the original packaging.  All I can imagine is that with all of his trips to the PGA Superstore he occasionally felt the need to purchase something, so he settled on golf gloves.  I had to laugh when I found them, and now our son-in-law won’t have to buy golf gloves for many years to come. I loved that Alan is still making me laugh, even after he’s gone.

Again, thank you for reaching out and all of your nice comments.  I know that I will eventually create a new normal.  I believe that life can still be beautiful, even when there’s broken parts.


In October 2020, my friend and neighbor, Pat Miles Zimmerman, returned to Arizona from her summer home in Minneapolis with an idea for a book.  Pat’s husband, Bucky, had died of pancreatic cancer in February 2019, just three months after receiving his diagnosis.  When Bucky’s doctor advised Pat and Bucky to get their affairs in order, they thought their affairs were in order.  But as it turned out, they had been set for life, but not for death.  After Bucky died, Pat experienced a plethora of problems, many of which she had not anticipated.  As Pat spoke with friends about her experience, she learned that she was not alone: very few people prepare to leave this world.  And yet…we’re all going to.  As Pat observed, we prepare for a baby, to go away to college, to marry – really for all of life’s milestones – but we don’t plan for death. She was determined to address the issue head-on.  So, on that October day in 2020, she called me and said, “I have an idea for a book, and I want you to help me write it.”

Many people express a desire to write a book, but Pat’s background and experience brought credibility to the idea.  Pat was a revered part of the Twin Cities media landscape for more than a quarter of a century. She was a TV news anchor for WCCO-TV and KARE 11, she was also the creator and host of A Pat Miles Special for KARE and rounded out her career as host of The Pat Miles Show on WCCO Radio. Pat has won numerous accolades, including the National Television Academy’s Silver Circle Award and induction into the Minnesota Broadcast Hall of Fame. Needless to say, she is an expert at interviewing people and telling their stories.   

We started by doing some competitive research and discovered that most books written for widowed people are either written solely about grief or recount a singular experience with the death of a spouse.  Our idea was to provide a broad array of perspectives, from many people and on a variety of subjects.  As we delved more into our research and conversations, we realized that many of the problems widowed people encounter could have been prevented with some pre-planning.  It became apparent that this lack of preparation added unnecessary stress to an already stressful time.  As Pat learned firsthand, by the time someone receives a terminal diagnosis, it’s often too late to start planning. We decided that our book would not only address issues that occur after a death, but what actions need to be taken beforehand.  Thus, the title of the book is Before All is Said and Done.

After our research concluded, Pat spent the next 18 months interviewing dozens of widowed people to learn about their experiences.  The problems were varied – financial, legal, family dynamics, alcoholism, dementia, sudden death and of course, grief – just to name a few.  She then sought advice from experts on how to avoid the problems or how to better cope with a situation.  We learned some new concepts: end-of-life doulas who can guide a family through a terminal illness and “intention letters”, that convey the thought process behind unequal inheritances, how family assets or belongings should be distributed, or to pass on family values and history. Through her contacts Pat was able to interview such notables as Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Bonnie Carroll, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with military widows, and Melanie Bloom, the widow of NBC News correspondent David Bloom, who took her husband’s very public death and turned it into a public service.  Pat found doctors, lawyers, accountants, psychologists, and counselors who were all intrigued by the idea behind the book and wanted to participate. 

We quickly got into a rhythm for putting the book together; Pat would send me her thoughts or personal experience on a topic for the introduction, along with the transcripts of her interviews that pertained to that subject. I then turned the interview questions and answers into a narrative that combined the widows’ stories with advice and counsel from the experts.  We edited the subjects down to twelve chapters that deal with grief, estate planning, financial planning, blended family dynamics, dementia, sudden death (including suicide), COVID-19 deaths, military deaths (and why they are different), alcoholism, end-of-life doulas, self-care, and finally, examples of people who have come out the other side of grief to make new lives for themselves. 

It has been a long two years, filled with writing and rewriting, but finally, our book will be released tomorrow!  We are excited to share our work.  This is not just a book for those of us on Social Security.  In fact, the book includes several stories of women in their 30’s whose husbands died unexpectedly and left them with complex problems to solve.  The book is really for anyone who has a spouse, partner, children, or any loved one they will leave behind.  

If you would like more information here is a link to the Amazon page, where you can read about it and, we hope, purchase it: https://amzn.to/3BZBiJp

I have learned a lot about the book business in the past year.  One thing I learned is that if a book gets more than 50 reviews on Amazon it gets the attention of Goodreads, BookBub, and other book selling sites.  So, if you buy the book and have an account with Amazon, we would appreciate it if you could take a moment to write a review.  I also learned that there’s no faking it – Amazon tracks if you really bought the book. If you choose to buy the Kindle version, you must have read at least 30% of the book for your review to count.  They track that too. I think my next book is going to be about how Amazon works.

The past two years have both gratifying and educational.  Given that I spent my career in the financial services industry I believed I had all of my documents in order.  I didn’t. I learned, and am still learning, how to be a better writer.  But mostly I learned that you could embark on a long, sometimes difficult project with a friend and not only end up still friends, but better friends.  All in all, it’s been a great journey.